By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
John Ellison, Bishop of Paraguay 19
88-2007, returned to England after his retirement and settled near Basingstoke with his wife Judie. He remained active in ministry as an honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Winchester, and Chair of the Anglican Mission in England Panel of Bishops. After battling illness for some months, he died at home on 5th August, and a service of thanksgiving was held on 20th August. Those present gave praise to God for a faithful servant who was a loving husband and father, a pioneering, innovative and enabling leader, who like the Apostles prioritised the word of God and prayer, took risks in mission, and is remembered for loving pastoral care.
The service at St Mary’s Eastrop was led by the Rector, Clive Hawkins, who before the committal gave a clear gospel presentation, explaining (as per Bishop John’s instructions!) the achievements of the death of Christ and urging those present to receive salvation and live in it. Earlier in the service, the principal tribute to John came from Judie, and was read by a son in law; this was followed by moving reminiscences from son Richard and daughters Rosie and Liz. Bishop Andy Lines who with his wife Mandy served under John’s leadership in Paraguay in the 1990's and then latterly with Gafcon and AMiE-related work, gave an appreciation of his own, and introduced short video tributes from South America.
John first made a commitment to Christ at the Billy Graham Haringey meetings at the age of 14. He grew up in London and after school, attended a teacher training college where he led the Christian Union, and where his conviction and clarity in explaining the gospel was already evident. He taught English at secondary school level for some years, during which time he met and married Judie. A call to ordained ministry led to theological study at the London College of Divinity, where he was tutored by Michael Green, and a curacy in Woking where their daughter and son were born.
They were accepted for service with the South American Missionary Society, and after language study, started work in Buenos Aires in 1971 as Scripture Union staff workers, concentrating on Bible reading materials, evangelism and young peoples' groups and camps. When this work had been handed over to Argentine Christians, John began a new work starting a Spanish speaking Anglican church in the city. The family lived through a tense time of the Peronist dictatorship, a chaotic interim period of weak government, and the military junta which was notorious for extra-judicial killings and the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Judie said: “John was able to organise weekly prayer meetings between the different church denominations in the Belgrano area [a suburb of Buenos Aires) and we had the privilege of praying for peace with Christian relatives of Argentine soldiers fighting in the conflict.”
With many tears they returned to England towards the end of 1982, and moved to the West Midlands where John was Rector of a thriving benefice with three parishes. Return to South America was always on John and Judie’s heart, however, and the opportunity came with a surprising call to leadership of the Anglican mission in Paraguay. There were Spanish speaking churches in two main cities, Asuncion and Conception, and their environs, and also a mission to the indigenous people of the Chaca region, to which John gave extra energy and impetus, training local leaders with the help of Tim Curtis, a missionary who had mastered the local language and has since translated the scriptures (and who also sent a tribute via video). Travel over long distances on poor or non existent road often took several hours. Praise was given to God for the growth of the church during that period under John’s leadership, but I suspect that more could have been said about a great deal of hardship and sacrifice experienced by John during those years in Argentina and Paraguay – he will be receiving his reward for that now.
Andres Rodriguez, who joined John as assistant Bishop and became Bishop, said in a message: “We remember him as a faithful man, as holy, righteous and disciplined. He was very focused on the word of God and prayer. He was a real teacher of the Word of God and he tried hard by different methods to teach so that all his hearers would understand what he was saying. John always sought the unity and harmony of all the brethren. He always tried to gather together the leaders of the church, whether leaders from the countryside, the city and the Chaco. Together with his wife he worked hard to support the weakest and most needy….the heart of a father”.
Shortly after his retirement and the family’s return to the UK, John sought to serve in the Church of England, and attended St Mary’s in Basingstoke with Judie. He was concerned about the need to stand firm for biblical truth in the face of increased secularism, and so attended the Gafcon conferences and agreed to play a leading role in the establishment of new Anglican congregations outside the Church of England under Gafcon’s auspices. Messages of appreciation were read out from congregations in Scotland and Portugal which followed this same path of detaching from the ‘official’ authority because of profound disagreements over doctrine, and which benefitted from John’s help and ministry at crucial times. John’s involvement in the launch of these new initiatives were not appreciated by some in the Church of England, but it was typical of his humility and courageous focus on the gospel that he sought to help where he felt God’s call, regardless of how it might affect his reputation.
The service was an excellent memorial and thanksgiving for an exemplary man of God. I’ll certainly miss John, a distinctive figure in meetings with his diminutive stature, his ‘mate’ herb tea with straw carried everywhere with him, his sharp probing questions, the twinkle in his eye, his words of encouragement.